U.S. Mandates Vaccines or Tests for Big Companies by Jan. 4

WASHINGTON (AP) -
A dose of the COVID-19 vaccination is shown, Wednesday, at Children’s National Hospital in Washington.  (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Tens of millions of Americans who work at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Jan. 4 or get tested for the virus weekly under government rules issued Thursday.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration said companies that fail to comply could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.

The new requirements, which were first previewed by President Joe Biden in September, will apply to about 84 million workers at medium and large businesses, although it is not clear how many of those employees are unvaccinated.

Tougher rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have an option for testing and will need to be vaccinated.

It was unclear how OSHA planned to enforce the rules. A senior administration official said the agency would target companies if it gets complaints.

Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

The release of the rules followed weeks of regulatory review and meetings with business groups, labor unions and others.

OSHA drafted the rules under emergency authority meant to protect workers from an imminent health hazard. Senior administration officials said the rules preempt conflicting state laws or orders, including those that ban employers from requiring vaccinations, testing or the wearing of face masks.

The administration will face an immediate challenge from Republican state officials who are eager to fight Biden in court. More than two dozen Republicans serving as state attorneys general have indicated they plan to sue, arguing that only Congress can enact such sweeping requirements under emergency authority.

Last week, 19 states sued to stop Biden’s narrower mandate that employees of federal contractors be vaccinated. That requirement was scheduled to take effect Dec. 8, but the administration said Thursday it will be delayed until Jan. 4 to match the requirements on other large employers and health care providers.

Workers will need to receive either two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine by Jan. 4. Unvaccinated employees must submit a verified negative test to the company at least once a week and wear face masks on the job.

Employees who test positive must be removed from the workplace.

OSHA will require businesses to provide paid time off for employees to get vaccines and sick leave to recover from side effects that prevent them from working. The requirements for masks and paid time off for shots will take effect Dec. 5.

Because vaccines are free, OSHA said, companies do not have to provide or pay for tests.